GCSE & A-level merry-go-round – Yes, there will be exams, no, exams are cancelled, actually, there will be a test…

For awarding exam grades at GCSE and A-level in the summer of 2021, a proper exam or test or some sort, which is marked externally, is the fairest for GCSE and A-level students. This will help to mitigate against unfairness and to ensure uniformity in standard. For a level-playing field, due to missed teaching time and the inconsistency in the quality of teaching that young people experienced as a result of disruption caused by COVID-19, the content of what is being examined may be reduced and schools given plenty of warning.

The new suggestion by Gavin Williams, as reported on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday 13th January 2021, that there should be some sort of test, is a welcome idea. The most manageable way to go about this is for the government to allow exam boards to set, mark and manage the test, which is really an exam! The fiasco created in the summer of 2020 can be avoided. There are two main issues with the 2020 exams:

  1. The worst thing that happened was that young people were informed very early – in April 2020 – that, not only were the exams cancelled, but that any work they did from that time, would not count towards their grades. This demotivated young people and most did very little or no studying for between five to six months before their next stage of education, sixth form for the sixteen-year-old GCSE students and first year of university for the eighteen-year-old A-level students. A real loss at a critical time…
  2. Some sort of grades were released as a result of using some sort of algorithm, but which was lacking in taking account of individual student’s ability and competence. The government later changed its  mind, allowing the initial grades that the teachers recommended to go though

As a teacher and a curriculum manager of almost three decades, observations and experience tell me that no matter how competent and well-meaning we are as teachers, we are never accurate in predicting grades for our students. No, the exams are not 100% accurate in awarding grades either; however, they are much fairer and far more accurate than teacher prediction.

It is good to see that the government is now rethinking its decision and looking into allowing some sort of tests to go ahead. Tests will allow to eliminate or at least drastically reduce unfairness, prejudice, or perceived prejudice, in the mind of parents and students – the “I know I would have done better in a real exam than my teacher’s predicted grade” kind of thing…

Whatever the government does, there are three key conditions that, in my humble view, must be met:

  1. Maintenance of standards and consistency in the way grades are awarded
  2. A clear message to sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds to keep studying and working diligently, until at least early/mid June. They must be assured that whatever they do from now to June will count towards any grade they are awarded.
  3. Fairness in the way the grades are awarded – to account for varying experiences of learning and teaching that the young people have.

We can argue   the order of importance of the points above, but all   three criteria must be met if justice is to prevail for all our teenagers.

The previous blog post on this topic can be accessed via the link below: https://excelinkeysubjects.com/gcse-and-a-level-exams-now-a-marathon-and-not-a-sprint/

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